Tuesday, July 28, 2009

what do you do when they just want to touch everything?

I'll keep it short on this one, but I invite you all to give us suggestions--especially all the teachers out there. A reader asked this about the handwashing lesson, and this is such a good question, I had to get into it. I want to give the handwashing lesson, but my child just wants to play in the water and touch everything! What do I do?
One of the challenges of a home environment, is that it is more than a carefully constructed children's environment, it is YOUR environment. Everyone in your house has to live there, and chances are, everyone in your house will not, at all times, conduct himself or herself in the manner of an astute Montessori teacher. This will, of course, have implications for your child's interaction with household materials.
Raise your hand if this has yet to become apparent to you. That's pretty much what I suspected.
This is hard, especially at home, because our ambitions for our children's independence often have more complex motivations than their schoolteacher's would. Montessori teachers invite the children to discover new and wonderful things they can do on their own. WE want them to be able to do things for themselves that will otherwise have to be done for them. Their teacher has the luxury of inviting them to explore a world that is all their own, where WE are inviting them to explore OUR world--a world made by us, for us, and into which we have brought them. It's not wrong, it's just different, and I think you have to respect that difference, and understand that it is going to alter your ability to be your own child's Montessori teacher. So, in short, adjust your expectations for Montessori lessons at home. Teach your child to do the things you do at home, in the way you do them at home. Unless you are homeschooling, leave the academic lessons at school, and create enrichments in your home environment. The magic of Montessori school is, in part, that everything there is just for the child. If it is at home, it is also for Mommy/Daddy/Brother/Sister, and so a little of the glitter falls away, see? But on to handwashing, which I think can and should be done at home, along with much of the practical life curriculum.
I don't know if this will help or not, but I think that if the child just wants to touch everything instead of observing the lesson, the lesson is being given at the wrong time. Handwashing is complicated. If the child wants to play with water but can't make it all the way through handwashing, I think you should try a simpler water lesson. Transferring with a sponge is a favorite of mine for manipulating water. Be sure you set it up on a rugged surface, and on a towel. The eyedropper lesson is a nice one, the work is detailed, and the instructions are short.
if you don't know the eyedropper lesson, it is this:
tiny pitcher or vessel for water (maybe the jar the pipette came in?)
rubber soap holder (you know, the one with the little suction-cup thingies on it?)
small eyedropper or pipette.
tiny sponge
on top of the tray goes the placemat. arranged from left to right are:
soap holder
water is drawn from water source into the vessel and is returned to the table (it should be a really tiny, transparent vessel. you do not need a lot of water for this. The water is drawn from the vessel into the pipette, and transferred, drop-by-drop, onto the little cups of the soap holder. When all of the cups are filled, the water is removed from them with the sponge. The child repeats this until he is satisfied, then the work is put away.
anybody who would be willing to post a picture of this from your album? Please do!
Remember, handwashing is complicated. It's a big lesson. If you are doing handwashing, pick a time when your child is really ready. Otherwise, help her wash her hands according to the procedure, and don't try to give the lesson. It'll just frustrate you both. Start smaller.


Testdriver said...

eww. sorry for the awful formatting on this one. I don't know what's up with blogger today.

Melissa said...

So no SPL, huh? I kinda figured that one-- but I MISS teaching-- ah, to balance! Good points, well taken!

Marcy said...

I've been struggling with hand-washing as well. My kid's 18 months old, and I've been trying to figure out a decent way to wash his hands. He's way too short still to use most step-stools, so I usually hold him up to the sink with one hand while trying to wash his hands with the other... a bit awkward, especially when he's wriggling and trying to grab at everything. I suppose this isn't so much a Montessori quandary, really, as much as a practical problem of how to most effectively get his hands clean...

I do like the dropper idea, though, and may try that out. I also love your points on the differences between teaching in a school environment vs at home. Very well said (I feel I learn something pretty valuable each time I read one of your blog posts!).

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for answering my question :)
I read with much interest your ideas about the difference between a home environment and a school environment. Very enlightening, and most of all, freeing! As a newbie who just recently discovered Montessori, I was thinking that for it to be effective I needed to make it perfect even though I don't plan to homeschool. Thank you for giving me a break lol
I am going to try the eyedropper lesson, I think my daughter will love it.
"Remember, handwashing is complicated. It's a big lesson. If you are doing handwashing, pick a time when your child is really ready. Otherwise, help her wash her hands according to the procedure, and don't try to give the lesson. It'll just frustrate you both. Start smaller."
I will definitely follow this advice!
Thank you again!

h said...

I totally agree about starting smaller. As a Montessori teacher I have countless times started a lesson just to realize that the child only wanted to "play with the water" or whatever other material I was presenting. Clearly I was trying this presentation too early!

I think this is where following the child comes in: if she wants to play with the water, provide her with a material with which she can play with the water. Eg: Eye dropper, using a sponge, or pouring water jug to jug.

In fact, in a Casa environment we don't present Hand Washing until the child has first done a long list of other preparatory activities: pouring jug to jug, jug to a glass, jug to a series of glasses, jug to glasses with marked levels, using a sponge, wringing a cloth, sponging up spills, moping the floor etc.

Renee said...

EXCELLENT! I only have a 7 month old of my own, but as I have been working on my Montessori teacher training, I've often wondered about the work at home vs. at school. I think you've made a great distinction here. In fact, at training this summer a point was made that if a child is doing work at home (like worksheets... heaven forbid...) the child will be less likely to work at school (here, speaking of older primary aged children).

A question I have for you along the lines of the freedom and independence is this: My mother and mother-in-law are watching my son while I return to work this fall. My mother mentioned buying a walker for my son and I nearly died. Since it was my mother I felt well-equipped to talk to her about why it is important to give him freedom of movement vs. confinement. Her response was that she would only be using it when she needed to do something briefly out of the room (restroom, cooking, etc.), and that it was just a safe-guard for when she could not be right there for him in her less baby-proofed and much larger house. That said I was ok with the walker idea... at least it isn't an "exer-saucer," right?

Well, this morning my mother-in-law came to pick up my son before I left for work and she told me with great excitement that she had bought him a walker "that is stationary" (sounds like an exer-saucer). She was so excited about getting him home to play in it. And meanwhile I'm filling with dread and anxious about it all day at work. She dropped him back off at home in a rush, so I didn't get to talk to her much about how his day went or how the little contraption was used, but I am wondering if anyone has any advise about how to handle this gently and tactfully. She does not have experience with Montessori (outside of the "weird" stuff we do for Dominic... like floor bed, few toys, etc).

Our goal is to have an accessible home environment that fosters his independence and development, and I'm struggling with how to instill these values in his caretakers... who are relatives!

Testdriver said...

You know, Renee, this is such a difficult issue. I have endured plenty of eye rolling at my "academic" parenting ideas, so I know where you're coming from.

Both my parents and my in-laws do babysit from time to time, and I have learned to do what my mother-in-law has always told me that a good mother must learn to do. That is to raise your children with one eye open and one eye closed.

Your "open" eye has to look for two kinds of problems: the catastrophic kind, and the avoidable kind. For example, if your free-childcare-providing parents are giving your child a mercury thermometer as a toy, a nap on the top bunk, or a whiskey-soaked gauze bandage as a pacifier, you should step in and let them know that you don't think it's safe. I would place a rolling walker in that category--they are demonstrably unsafe. "Avoidable" problems, things like bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, diaper preferences, formula/breastmilk preferences, can all be managed (usually) by planning ahead and having the things you want for your child prepared in advance, so that there is no need for a grandparent to make a choice you wouldn't agree with.

Everything else, in my experience, things like blinky toys, occasional sweets, and exersaucers, at least for me, should usually be met with the "closed" eye. My version of the "closed" eye is this: I expound in lengthy lectures about all the reasons I have excluded a certain element from my home environment (e.g. no exersaucer because of confinement issues) but pretend that I don't see the implement being used in my parents/in-laws' house (or shrug my shoulders in pleasant, but slightly weary resignation--a gesture I would advise anyone benefitting from the awesome privilege that is grandparent-care to cultivate in front of the bathroom mirror). I think this serves two purposes. One, it allows me to make my own preferences and reasons known, and two, it allows the people love and care for my children in my absence to understand my wishes while still exercising their freedom to do what they feel will work best for them when handling my child (there are limits, of course, as stated above).

I think having grandparents to care for children is such a marvelous benefit to them that almost any rule should be bent to accommodate it. I think there is hardly any greater social benefit than to spend significant time with people a generation older than one's parents. And what child doesn't benefit from that peculiar and magnificent gift that is grandparent love!

I also think that, if you are consistent in your home with a lifestyle you want your children to grow up with, it's ok for things to be different at grandma's. Believe me, they will be anyway. At least for us, the grandparents respect our decisions (sort of) and want to care for our kids in ways that would make us happy--we're their children, after all--but they have been around this block a few times and have their own ways of doing things (ways that I have learned a lot from, though we sometimes disagree) that will broaden your child's horizons more than you know.

Mel said...

This is something that I have struggled with a few times, especially since I'm new to Montessori and I don't have experience with the age things are usually introduced to children. I tried to introduce water pouring way too early. My son liked pouring his water out while eating, so I thought it would be a good idea. He just ended up wanting to play with the mop and drink the water from the pitchers, go figure! I am learning now that there were other activities we should have done before, such as the sponge one you mention. It almost seems as though there are prerequisites that should be done so that the later activities are not too complicated.

Your evaluation of home vs. school is very interesting. I have been considering lately how I plan to handle homeschool. I've read some blogs where people have a Montessori Room, where they "do preschool". My son is only 16 months old, so we haven't gotten into many of the activities yet. Mostly I have carefully selected his toys, placed a few in each room, and generally tried to integrate certain Montessori 'rules'. However, by 18 months, I am hoping to start more and more activities, and I wonder if it would be best to have them separate from our home. (My son has pretty much free reign of the house and hasn't quite gotten to the point where he puts things back or uses things as they were meant to be used). Having a separate room where we go only for pre-school time seems like it would keep activities from being abused and keep my expectations in check. Of course there are practical life activities that will take place in the rest of the home, like cooking, cleaning, or dressing, but maybe there just needs to be a good balance.

Elle said...

I feel as though I am almost functioning in reverse here- my almost 4 year old daughter attended Montessori for the past two years, and now that we've moved and have yet to sell the first home we cannot afford her previous schooling. So we have switched to a much more affordable Church- based preK for the time being.

I am not a formally trained Montessori teacher. I am simply a mom who tries to educate herself on Montessori from reading, observing, and discussing it. I've set up most of my home to function in a "made for [ or at least adapted for] the child" way, and now with my daughter attending this new school it seems like LOTS of details are rapidly falling by the waist side. Cleaning up after herself, the hygiene routine after toileting, setting her table space, participating in cooking, even walking past her 'true' Montessori materials have all just plummeted off the face of the Earth. And I'm just sitting here feeling like life just did a 180 and I'm not liking what I am seeing.

Any advice?

littlepuffyclouds said...

Renee, I have issues with my parents too. And the advice I have gotten from experts is that it can be valuable for our children to learn that other people (like grand parents) will treat them differently than their parents. We have followed the RIE respectful parenting method (www.rie.org) which seems similar to Montessori in many ways and it was a struggle dealing with my mom...many fights were had! Now I have just decided that "what ever happens at Grandma's STAYS at Grandma's!" It really is a blessing to see their relationship grow and my daughter loves her. And I'm assuming as she gets older (she's only two) it will provide learning moments where we can talk about why we only have treats in moderation...and TV!

Oh, and about handwashing... Until around 2yrs I washed my daughters hands with a wash cloth. I would tell her I needed to wash her hands so they were clean for eating, ask her if she was ready to give me a hand to clean, and wait for her to give me a hand. i think that this is a great first step in getting cooperation for doing it themselves. And now she walks up them steps to the sink and waits for me to turn on the water...I always turn the water off while she lathers up her hands, so she won't play or rinse off the soap too soon (and mostly to conserve water). I think like other have said, if your child seems to want to play in the water, you should embrace that and get them cups and funnels and pouring materials to explore.

逛街 said...


九族 said...


judy said...

I like your blog.

Marie said...

I just found your blog and i'm so excited to find it! i'm in training for A to I in Denver. It's so good to find a blog that relates to Montessori and concerns this age group! I'll have recommend you to the parents in my class! Have you gone for training?

Bileen said...

I just found your blog and think it's very interesting. I don't know much about Montessori other than I've heard some good things about alternative schools and Montessori is a good one to look into. I've haven't been able to stop meandering through your posts since I came here! It's interesting that a lot of the ideas I have about parenting are similar to things you express, but I've never put a name to it. I plan to keep reading with much interest. Thank you!

Bileen said...

Okay....so I've seriously read over your entire archives, and I noticed that the last post was back in JULY of LAST year??!! Then I tried finding an email address I could reach you at and I don't see one anywhere....so I hope you stop by to say hello sometime.

My question is...can you tutor me?

I'd like some tips on how to go from my chaotic (very unprepared) environment to a clean organized place that my 8 month old can learn and play in. I'm getting more and more interested in Montessori and will have to pursue other sources of information on it.

I'm particularly interesting in the practical life applications and in helping DS be respectful of the environment, putting things away after use, etc.

It just seems like so much information that I don't really know where to get started on all of it, especially since I have no training myself.

testdriver said...


you can email me at amanda@llum.com

Alli Buckley said...

Dear Mommybahn,
I just found your blog and LOVE IT (so hard to find a good Montessori mama blog!). Do you plan to keep it up? I see your last post was in 2009?
Many thanks,
Alli (an Elementary-trained Montessorian)

NOLAmom said...

Okay Testdriver, your fans are clamoring for more! Start posting again please!!

Don't you miss us as much as we miss you? C'mon, admit it, you do.